Fri, Mar 08, 2013 - Page 15 News List

At top IT fair, firms mull the death of e-mail

AFP, HANOVER, Germany

“You want to get rid of e-mail? Good luck with that,” Ovum IT analyst Tom Reuner said.

However, at the CeBIT, the world’s biggest high-tech fair in the northern German city of Hanover, some firms are considering doing just that, as studies show that workers spend nearly a third of their day sorting through e-mails.

The French firm Atos, for example, plans to shift its internal communications onto a Facebook-style social networking platform by next year.

Displaying its “Zero E-mail” system at the CeBIT, Atos, led by former French finance minister Thierry Breton, has said it wants to rid society of e-mails.

Breton has even compared the project to “reducing environmental pollution after the industrial revolution.”

Atos project leader Robert Shaw said the firm was “on track in moving our organization towards a collaborative work environment not based on e-mails by 2014.”

There are “already more than 20,000 staff” on the internal “BlueKiwi” system, Shaw said.

The most committed ones “do not use internal e-mails anymore, since they collaborate together and get their work done in a more enjoyable and effective way,” he added.

Atos believes that by changing the way staff communicate with each other internally, a firm’s productivity could be boosted by as much as 20 percent.

This chimes with a study carried out by the US consulting firm McKinsey which showed that the average office worker spent about 28 percent of their time reading, writing and sorting tens or hundreds of e-mails each day.

Atos is not the only firm trying to deal with what many regard as the plague of e-mails.

Lanvin, Deloitte and Intel have all tried to instigate “e-mail-free days.”

Some individuals have taken it upon themselves to do away with the flood of electronic messages, such as Luis Suarez, in charge of promoting “business 2.0” at US computing giant IBM, who has scarcely used e-mail for the past five years.

“It’s not collaborative enough, it’s not open enough, it’s not transparent enough,” Suarez said in a recent video post.

However, he acknowledges that it would take a long process of education to wean people off e-mail.

Dieter Kempf, head of German high-tech lobby group BITKOM, said that although he was among those irritated by the flood of daily e-mails, he acknowledged that they have greatly improved communication within society.

“I think we can learn a lot from social networking technology to create different communication forms within a company,” Kempf said.

Using systems similar to Facebook or Twitter, employees can share ideas, tell others what they are working on in real time, transfer documents or ask questions, without having to send e-mails copied to dozens of colleagues.

As analyst Tom Reuner said, reports of the death of the e-mail may be exaggerated.

“This could only happen at an internal level [of a company],” he said.

“You may be able to change the behavior of your own employees, but how do you deal with suppliers, the external side?” he added.

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